Global Military Spending: $230 Per Person

Monitoring defense systems on a U.S. aircraft carrier

By The Maritime Executive 05-01-2018 07:16:40

Total world military expenditure rose to $1,739 billion in 2017, according to new figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This represents 2.2 percent of global GDP or $230 per person.

After 13 consecutive years of increases from 1999 to 2011 and relatively unchanged spending from 2012 to 2016, total global military expenditure rose again in 2017 by 1.1 percent. China’s military expenditure rose again in 2017, continuing an upward trend in spending that has lasted for more than two decades. Russia’s military spending fell for the first time since 1998, while spending by the U.S. remained constant for the second successive year. 

“At the global level, the weight of military spending is clearly shifting away from the Euro–Atlantic region,” said Dr Nan Tian, Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure program. 

Military expenditure in Asia and Oceania rose for the 29th successive year. China, the second largest spender globally, increased its military spending by 5.6 percent to $228 billion in 2017. China’s spending as a share of world military expenditure has risen from 5.8 percent in 2008 to 13 percent in 2017. India spent $63.9 billion on its military in 2017, an increase of 5.5 percent compared with 2016, while South Korea’s spending, at $39.2 billion, rose by 1.7 percent between 2016 and 2017. 

At $66.3 billion, Russia’s military spending in 2017 was 20 percent lower than in 2016, the first annual decrease since 1998. Military modernization remains a priority in Russia, but the military budget has been restricted by economic problems that the country has experienced since 2014.

Driven, in part, by the perception of a growing threat from Russia, military spending in both Central and Western Europe increased in 2017, by 12 and 1.7 percent, respectively. Many European states are members of NATO and, within that framework, have agreed to increase their military spending. Total military spending by all 29 NATO members was $900 billion in 2017, accounting for 52 percent of world spending.

Military expenditure in the Middle East rose by 6.2 percent in 2017. Spending by Saudi Arabia increased by 9.2 percent in 2017 following a fall in 2016. With spending of $69.4 billion, Saudi Arabia had the third highest military expenditure in the world in 2017. Iran (19 percent) and Iraq (22 percent) also recorded significant increases in military spending in 2017. 

Despite low oil prices, armed conflict and rivalries throughout the Middle East are driving the rise in military spending in the region, said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with SIPRI. In 2017 military expenditure as a share of GDP (known as the military burden) was highest in the Middle East, at 5.2 percent. No other region in the world allocated more than 1.8 percent of GDP to military spending.

The U.S. continues to have the highest military expenditure in the world. In 2017, it spent more on its military than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. At $610 billion, U.S. military spending was unchanged between 2016 and 2017, marking the downward trend in US military spending that started in 2010. U.S. military spending in 2018 is set to rise significantly to support increases in military personnel and the modernization of conventional and nuclear weapons.

“Continuing high world military expenditure is a cause for serious concern,” said Ambassador Jan Eliasson, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board. “It undermines the search for peaceful solutions to conflicts around the world.”

Other notable developments

•       China made the largest absolute increase in spending ($12 billion) in 2017, while Russia made the largest decrease (–$13.9 billion).
•       Military expenditure in South America rose by 4.1 percent in 2017, mainly as a result of notable increases by the two largest spenders in the subregion: Argentina (up by 15 percent) and Brazil (up by 6.3 percent).
•       Military spending in Central America and the Caribbean fell by 6.6 percent in 2017, largely due to lower spending by Mexico (down by 8.1 percent from 2016).
•       Military expenditure in Africa decreased by 0.5 percent in 2017, the third consecutive annual decrease since the peak in spending in 2014. Algeria’s military spending fell for the first time in over a decade (down by 5.2 percent from 2016).
•       Seven of the 10 countries with the highest military burden are in the Middle East: Oman (12 percent of GDP), Saudi Arabia (10 percent of GDP), Kuwait (5.8 percent of GDP), Jordan (4.8 percent of GDP), Israel (4.7 percent of GDP), Lebanon (4.5 percent of GDP) and Bahrain (4.1 percent of GDP).